Sept. 30 First News:NM's state-run Health Insurance Exchange opens tomorrow. (listen)

Starting tomorrow, New Mexico individuals and small businesses can start shopping for health insurance using the state's new health insurance exchange that offers a variety of plans. Enrollment can be accomplished online, by telephone or in person at about 160 locations across the state. Although the uninsured are the main target of the exchange, it's available to others as well. Coverage will begin in January--in the meantime, individuals who buy their own insurance can go to the exchange to look for a range of options. The exchange's website is: NMHIX.com.

Drug abuse in Santa Fe and its effects throughout the community will be a topic under scrutiny at this evening's meeting of the Finance Committee. Focus will be on the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that would divert some drug offenders into treatment instead of incarceration. LEAD could be in place by early next year and has been projected to halve the current $1.5 million in yearly costs now spent on prosecuting and jailing low-level drug abusers. Two other agenda items deal with creating a community-wide public awareness campaign to take illegal drugs off the streets of Santa Fe. The matters go before full City Council on October 9th.

The Democratic Party of Santa Fe County hosts a public forum tonight for individuals who applied to fill the House District 50 seat vacancy created by the August death of representative Stephen Easley. The applicants comprise 4 registered Democrats and 2 Republicans. State Senator Peter Wirth will moderate. District 50 also covers portions of three other counties, all of which will put forth potential replacements of their choosing. The recommendations will be sent to Governor Martinez who will make the final decision. Tonight's 6:30 event is at the Performance Space at La Tienda in Eldorado.

Nearby Santa Clara Pueblo says FEMA representatives will visit soon to assess damages from flooding back in July that sent a 10 foot wall of water rushing through Santa Clara Creek. President Obama approved a declaration of “major disaster” for the Pueblo, qualifying it for federal public assistance funds. The monies will be used to repair roadways, create earthen dams as well as dredge water holding ponds.

Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico is among those backing a surveillance reform bill.  The Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act would end open-ended domestic surveillance and seek to reduce some of the secrecy surrounding government intelligence gathering.  Heinrich says more transparency is needed along with a greater balance toward protecting the civil liberties of US citizens.

The 42nd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta gets underway at the end of this week, October 5th. Over 500 balloons will be representing participation by 20 countries. Along with the event’s popular Mass Ascensions, the Fiesta also hosts the 18th America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race, a distance & endurance competition. As was the case last year, all of the race balloons will be using hydrogen as the lifting gas. Helium is in increasingly short supply worldwide and hydrogen is about 80-percent cheaper.

Weather for Santa Fe – a sunny and dry week in store. Highs in the mid 70s with overnight lows in the mid 40s. A cold front arrives at the end of the week, with cool daytime highs only near 60.